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学术界的杂交与自立门户(原文及译文) 精选

已有 7066 次阅读 2008-7-28 21:50 |系统分类:海外观察

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 Cross pollination vs. Establishing a brand name and empire in Academia

 In most top US universities there is a tradition against hiring her own students upon graduation. The theory being that inbreeding is not good for the bloodline of an institution. (As it is well known in biological world). Graduates should have experience to absorb foreign culture and thinking before returning to his Alma Malta, if ever. He will then be far better equipped to contribute to the well being of the organization. Similarly, an institution should hire new fresh blood from outside unburdened by tradition and established way of thinking in order to foster new ventures and breakthroughs.

But in China, the practice seems to be the exact opposite. Professors tend to keep his best students around (留好学生在身边). In fact the idea is to establish an empire or brand name (建立门户) and be the founder (开山鼻祖) surrounded by loyal disciples. This is the tradition of martial arts movies and books ( 武侠小说内的少林及武当派). But even in that genre, we find the true hero/heroine often have to break traditions and achieve greatness by chance discovery of secret techniques and instructions outside of his discipline. The traditionalists no matter how skilled in their art play supporting characters in the novel.

On the other hand, the current practice in Chinese academia is not without its rationale. Close knit members of a group tend to think alike and work to protect each other against outsiders. There is great comfort in feeling secure, understood, and supported by others near you. The Chinese family tradition further reinforces this group adhesion. There are advantages of being member of an established group in publications and securing grants under the Chinese system. Individuals and organizations that go against this practice benefits no one but hurt themselves. Thus, the practice is self-reinforcing and has its own logic for existence. In the parlance of game theory, this is the prisoner dilemma situation all over again.

It seems to me at least reasonable to question that might this practice of refusing to cross pollinate a contributory reason for the lack of innovation ( 创新) in Chinese academia? Might it be worthwhile for the Ministry of Education to decree that no university should be allow to hire his own graduate within two years of graduation?

(NOTE: Lest someone familiar with my own career for the last half century accuse me of hypocrisy, let me be the first to point out Harvard hired me immediately upon graduation in 1961 and the fact that my first Ph.D., from Tsinghua was hired immediately by the department after graduation in 2006. Both appointments go against what I am saying above but which I can honestly say are exceptions to the rule and are fully justified by facts and circumstances. I make no apologies)

(Notes added 7/30/08) 陈学雷先生的博文
及各位读者的评论使我在这理再铺充一二句:
This is the way Harvard departments make professorial appointments. The head of the department after consulting with members of the department appoints a committee to search for candidates in a particular area or subject. Thus, the department not individual faculty member determines the composition and direction of the organization. This committee searches far and wide for quality candidates and presents a short list and a report to the department for final voting. The department’s choice is then presented to the general university where another committee appointed by the President sits in judgment.  At Harvard this university committee consisting of members outside the department and the university chaired by the President holds enormous power. The department must defend and justify her choice to this ad hoc committee which then makes a recommendation to the president who alone makes a final decision. Thus, it is enormously difficult for a single member to build an empire with many tenured professors who are your own students. A professor with large grant money may hire research associates and post doctoral fellows using his own grant money. But these are temporary annual appointments and carry no long term future in the university. A truly ambitious scholar will use such term appointment to gain experience and as a stepping stone, but s/he will not be content to remain in such positions.
This is this way that Harvard and other top research universities prevent 近亲繁殖 and promote 杂交. In 1961 at the dawn of the modern control and system era, I had essentially no advisors at Harvard for my PhD thesis. The person who signed off on my thesis was an instructor. But the dean of the engineering school and one other professor sense the importance and emergence of this area and decided to hire me and the person who signed my thesis simultaneously as assistant professors. The record of the past 45 years vindicated their exceptional choice of the RULE. Subsequently I myself did not propose the tenure appointment of any of my own students for the next 45 years. My only colleague was recruited from outside at my suggestion This is not because there were no excellent candidates among my own students but because of my respect for the tradition. In fact, many of my academically oriented students all attained distinction on their own outside away from me.  
As for the hiring my first PhD graduate at Tsinghua by the department, I justify the appointment in my own mind this way.  The student received essentially a Harvard education. From 2001-2006 I taught him in course at Tsinghua based on my Harvard teachings, was in weekly if not daily e-mail communication with him about his research, co-authored papers and my last book with him, had him visiting me at Harvard for extended period of time, and arranged to have him visiting and give talks at various US institutions of higher learning. Thus Tsinghua was essentially hiring a 海龟 Harvard Ph.D. This was exactly the purpose and responsibility of my Tsinghua job – to infuse new ideas and worldwide practice into her graduate program. (http://www.sciencenet.cn/blog/user_content.aspx?id=8897).

Thus to reiterate, 杂交 is a tradition but not a iron clad rule never to be broken. The principle is to promote new and independent thinking by young scholars.

One more note: In order to have the position of “second-in-command 第二把手” for the administration of large research projects, research associates or senior research associates can be appointed for indefinite duration with the understanding so long as the project funding lasts. If funding disappears, such positions have one year termination notice. They also carry less responsibility and authority in academic affairs. There are capable but less ambitious persons who are happy in such positions, called “off-ladder appointments” which have limited future for advancement but can be very comfortable under the wings of powerful professors.

 

 

在大多数美国一流大学里都有这样一个传统,即反对雇佣自己刚毕业的学生。其理由是近亲繁殖对于研究机构的“血统”没有好处(这在生物学界已是众所周知)。毕业生在回归母校(如果有可能的话)之前,应该汲取不同的文化和思想。这样他才能更好地为学校的发展做出贡献。同样地,研究机构应该摆脱传统的固有思考方式,吸收外界的新鲜血液,以培育新的探索和突破。

然而在中国,现实似乎正好相反,教授们倾向于将自己最好的学生留在身边。事实上,他们的想法是建立自己的门户,成为开山鼻祖,身边围绕着一群忠实的门徒。这是武侠电影和小说的传统。不过即使是在电影和小说里,我们也会发现,真正的英雄经常不得不打破传统,通过意外获得别派的武功秘籍而成为绝顶高手。固守本派者不论本门功夫如何精湛,始终在小说里充当配角。

另一方面,中国学术界的当前实践却颇有自己的道理。团队内成员紧密团结在一起,倾向于用相同的方式思考和工作,互相庇护免受外来侵犯。这种安全感,这种得到周围的人理解和支持的感觉会让人觉得很惬意。中国的家庭传统观念进一步加强了这种团结。在中国的学术体系内,在发表文章和申请基金的时候拉帮结派,是有诸多好处的。不肯这样做的组织和个人只会损己不利人。因此,这种做法会不断自我加强,具有自己的存在逻辑。用博弈论来说,这是又一次的囚徒困境。

在我看来,我们有理由提出这样的疑问——是否正是这种拒绝“杂交”的习惯造成了中国学术界创新的缺失?教育部是否应该下令每所大学都不应该雇用自己毕业未满两年的学生?

(注:为了防止熟悉我过去50年学术生涯的人说我虚伪,我首先坦率地承认,哈佛大学在我1961年刚毕业的时候立即聘用了我,而我在清华大学的第一个博士生2006年一毕业也立即被清华大学聘用。这两个例子虽然与我上面所说的相违背,但是它们绝对是例外,从后来的实际情况和事实来看是有道理的。我无需致歉。)

陈学雷先生的博文
http://www.sciencenet.cn/blog/user_content.aspx?id=33695
及各位读者的评论促使我在2008年7月30日添加以下评论:

我在这理再铺充一二句:

哈佛各系是这样任命教授的。系主任在与系里其他成员协商后,会任命一个委员会在特定的领域或学科里寻找候选人。因而,是整个系而不是单个成员决定这一机构的组成和方向。这个委员会广泛搜集高质量的候选人,最后向系里提交一份筛选过的候选人名单,以备最终投票。这个名单经过系里挑选后会上报给学校,由校长任命的另一个委员会会对此作出裁决。在哈佛,这一委员会由校外的人员组成,由校长领导,拥有巨大的权力。

各系必须向这个特别委员会给出自己选择的理由,特别委员会会向校长推荐,之后由校长单独作最终的决定。因此,单个成员要想建立拥有多为终身教授(同时他们又是你自己的学生)的门派是极为困难的。拥有大项目的教授可能会用项目资金雇用研究助理和博士后,但是这些只是暂时性的短期合约,并非永久合同。一个真正有雄心的学者会利用这样的短期合约来获得经验,将其作为垫脚石,但并不会满足于待在这样的位置上。

这就是哈佛和其他顶级研究型大学阻止近亲繁殖并促进杂交的方式。1961年,在现代控制与系统研究发展的初期阶段,我在哈佛做博士论文,我当时根本没有导师。在我博士论文上签字的是一位讲师。但是工程学院的系主任和另一位教授意识到了这是一个重要的新兴领域,因此决定同时聘用我和那位在我论文上签字的讲师担任助理教授。过去45年的记录证明,他们这次打破常规的选择是正确的。随后的45年内,我没有推荐过自己的任何一个学生担任本系的终身教授。我所有的的同事是在我的推荐下从校外招进来的。这并不是因为我自己的学生当中没有杰出的候选者,而是因为我尊重这个传统。事实上,许多我这个学科的学生都依靠他们自己的努力获得了名望。

至于清华大学聘用我第一个清华博士生,我自己心里是这样认为的:这个学生本质上接受的是哈佛的教育。2001年到2006年间,我根据在哈佛的教义在清华教他,一周一次(有时一天一次)用E-Mail与他进行研究上的交流,与他合作撰写论文和我的最新一本书,邀请他到哈佛长期访问,安排他到多个美国高校访问并作报告。因此,清华本质上聘请的是一个海归的哈佛博士。这也正是我在清华工作的目的和责任——向清华研究生课程注入新的思想和世界惯例。(http://www.sciencenet.cn/blog/user_content.aspx?id=8897)

因此我要重申,杂交是一种传统,但并不是一个永远不该被打破的铁律。原则就是要能够促进年轻学者创新和独立的思考。

另注:为了管理大型研究项目,可以指定一位研究助理或高级研究助理担任二把手,只要项目持续获得资助就行。他们的合同期不定,如果资助终止了,二把手会提前一年得到合同终止的通知。这些助理在学术事件中责任少,权利小。他们有能力,但野心不大,乐于担当这样的职位。这样的职位可以称为“金字塔之外的职位”,发展的前景有限,但是在大牌教授的羽翼下会过得很舒服。(科学网 梅进译 何姣校)




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